Thursday, October 25, 2007
Comet erupts, now visible as bright star!
It has been quite awhile since the last time I got excited because of an astronomical event. Oh boy, am I excited now! I just received news that Comet Holmes (17P) has suddenly brightened by a millionfold from a very faint magnitude of 18 (October 20) to a magnitude of less than 3 now! The faintest star the human eye can see in a dark location is of magnitude 6.
"Comet Holmes is really an incredible object, like a new star in the middle of the thigh of Perseus. It's unbelievable to think that a few hours ago, this comet wasn't visible even with a good telescope, and now, it's easily visible with naked-eyes even in a town!" said Laurent Laveder, an amateur astronomer in France. You can view his pic of the comet (and by others) here.
For us in Singapore, the best time to view the comet will be anytime after 11pm when Perseus, the constellation where the comet is in right now, will be rising higher in the North Eastern sky. The comet should be easily spotted, even without binoculars. I've plotted the Comet's location on the map above (S&T Interactive Sky Chart), showing how the sky will look like at 11 pm tonight in Singapore, when facing North East, 30 degrees above the horizon. Click here to view a bigger version. To locate the comet, first you need to identify the constellations in that region. The easiest to spot will be the "M" of Cassiopeia. Perseus is next to it. Comet Holmes will look like an extra "star" or "planet" in Perseus. According to reports that I've read, there's no visible tail even when viewed through a telescope. The bright moon nearby may be a slight problem but if the comet is as bright as what the reports say, you should be able to spot it - even with the moon around.
I've been chasing comets for a long time now, and I have never encountered a comet that brightens up spectacularly all of the sudden like Comet Holmes. If the sky is clear later tonight, Comet Holmes will be my 16th comet! Let's hope it remains this bright for the next few nights.
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